Photo courtesy of Mark Freed.
Types of Artistry
Piney Creek, NC (Alleghany County)
The Sturgill family has deep roots in Alleghany County that trace back more than two centuries. Like many mountain families from northwest North Carolina, "Uncle Dave" Sturgill (1917 - 2004) and his wife moved to suburbs of Washington, DC, for work, so it happened that their sons, Danny and John, were born in Maryland, but "home was always in Piney Creek," the Sturgill brothers say. "When we talked about home, we were talking about North Carolina."
Danny Sturgill was the first to move back to Alleghany County, to the old family land, and soon the rest followed. When their father joined them, he and Danny decided to start a business making instruments. Dave Sturgill had spent much of his life making things, and he specialized in instruments. He learned to make his first instruments growing up in Alleghany County, and later he sought out advice from such experts as Herman Weaver, a famous violin builder in the Washington, DC, area. Both Danny and John followed in their father's footsteps, learning to build instruments.
Dave, Danny, and John all ran the instrument building shop in Alleghany County, and they were visited by many young people from around the region and country who were interested in making instruments. The family had a semi-formal apprenticeship program, working with several students at a time. The apprentices would make a certain number of instruments, and each could keep one to sell for himself.
The Sturgills built all kinds of instruments, including guitars, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, and fiddles. They also built partial kits as an affordable alternative and to encourage others to try their hands at building instruments. The Sturgills prided themselves in making instruments with unique shapes. "We might take a dozen dulcimers and banjos to a festival to sell," says Danny, "and every instrument had a unique aspect to it. They were all one-of-a-kind." The family traveled to fiddlers' conventions and other regional events to sell their instruments, and they received many custom orders.
After Dave passed away, John and Danny took jobs that provided more steady work, and they mostly put instrument building aside. But in recent years, the brothers have had a resurgence of interest in luthiery. Danny has started Piney Creek Woodworks, making stringed instruments, wooden crafts, and furniture in the old shop.
Danny Sturgill is available for custom orders, and he is available to display his work.